Bunker days and the cat that wouldn’t.

So now, I just got back from another trip to Berlin, which has become my new favourite place to go for a weekend away from the soul destroying grind which is in danger of becoming everyday life. I took Geo the grandson, soon to take his GCSEs, and Josef my son. A good time was had by all, and among other things we took in the Reichstag, the Tiergarten, Panoramapunkt on Potsdamer Platz for the views, Friedrichstrasse, the Mauerpark at Bernauerstrasse, the Eastside Gallery and a brief walk past the Detlev Rohwedder building with all its monumental horror to the car park on the corner of In der Ministergarten so Geo could have his picture taken there with a Sid Vicious type snarl on his face. To crown it all Geo and I took an early Sunday morning stroll along Unter den Linden from the lovely Schlossbrucke back to the Brandenburger Tor, visiting the Lustgarten, Bebelplatz, the Neue Wache and passing the Berliner Dom, the museums and lots of building work. We met up again with my two favourite Berlin waitresses, Katje and Poppi; if they were here or I were there I’d have them both. Working in the shop. The city still holds so much more for me to make future visits, it kinda feels like home in some ways.


And then. Back to the world. In a coffee fuelled meeting with my landlord at an out of town cafe, neutral ground, I negotiated a year’s extension to the lease on the shop back in January rather than going for a full five or ten year renewal, as the future is shrouded in mists of uncertainty and I’ve suffered a crisis of commitment, of sorts. A way of saying who the fuck knows where we are or what we’ll be doing a year from now.

This morning my dearest friend Ian came in and we had a good long chat of the sort I so rarely enjoy now. He’s a writer, a real published writer and occasional broadcaster, and I observed that work for him often consists of sitting, thinking and weighing phrases and generally considering stuff, whereas for me it usually means running around after mad people, feeding them and watering them, and sometimes even cleaning up the noxious, disgraceful mess they leave in the lavs. But often with no thinking involved. That’s the big void in my life. Skid marks on the porcelain a-plenty but precious little opportunity for creative reflection. Hence this.

Just listened to Astronomy Domine in honour of my mate Doyley who was found dead shortly after Christmas. He was often to be found listening to the Floyd in his unguarded moments. Sad days. He died owing me £40, and the day after we heard the news, his mate Roo came in and said he knew D owed me the money, and if I could see him right for a tenner he’d make sure I got the full £50 next week. I told him no, partly because I knew he was broke with few prospects and a lying bastard to boot, but also because he didn’t look too healthy himself and I didn’t want to throw good money after bad. He shrugged and left without embarrassing himself too much.

Not long after Ian left, the shop was descended upon by a small grey haired gnome complete with tufty beard, almost unintelligible Irish accent, greasy spectacles and all his possessions in a JDSports carry all bag. He told me his name was Casanova and he came from France, all the while wearing an impossibly shiny plastic rain jacket. Fuck me I thought, life soon returns to normal. He told me he’d be sitting in the shop waiting for a friend who’d arranged to meet him at three o’clock. I served him a coffee and told him he was out of luck because I’d be closing at two today. It’s a cold wettish Saturday and I had lots to do at home.

Then Mathew came in, apologising because he was later than he’d hoped. Count yourself lucky, Mathew, there’s late and then there’s late. Know what I mean?

Against my better judgement, I asked him what had delayed him. Always a foolish act.

“My cat. She wouldn’t let me out.” You might picture a twenty stone, seven foot Siberian Tiger prowling Fretful Grange and shit your pants with fear that a man like Mathew shares living space with such a terrible beast. But no, it’s a little black and white sweetie with green eyes.

“Mathew, how did Twinkles stop you coming out? How does that happen?” I felt my soul withering.

“She wanted to be fed.” Was his brief answer, so I made him a pot of tea and hoped for silence. The cogs of the Universe were once again slotting together, engaging their teeth, turning one within the other to drive time and space ever onward to the grim inevitability which awaits.

“I’ve been trying to get the council to clear a dangerous tree. You haven’t been about much lately. I was thinking of taking a saw along the road to cut it up and take it home to use it.” He left all this hanging, as if there might be a connection somewhere, or even some sense. I didn’t ask. I didn’t explain. Instead I placed a small smooth tan coloured pebble, such as you might find on any shingle beach, on the table next to his teapot.

“I picked it up in Berlin, Mathew. To show you. It’s from a car park. Hitler died nearby. Nothing remains to mark the spot except an illustrated information board. Think on that, Mathew. Fifty million dead and nothing but an eight or nine foot square perspex covered sheet of printed board to mark the time’s passing.”

Next weekend I’m taking Sara one of my daughters and grandson Jack to London for a couple of days. We’re going to climb the Monument and cross the Tower Bridge walkway. We’ll do other stuff too, I’m sure. Then I have to go again sometime soon with my sister as she wants us to revisit the places where we grew up and started school. It will be the first time we’ve been in Finsbury together since the summer of 1967. She’ll cry, most probably. Future ghosts and all that.






I finally gave in to the horrendous sight of my hair sticking out in a silver pre-afro mass of rowdy tufts. Jen is still not back in her little salon so I went over the road to Richie’s for a haircut. I think he was glad to see me back.

“Alright me old mate. You come back to me have yer? Three and a two is it? I was just about to close up for the day, things to do, bills to pay, but I’d better do you hadn’t I?”

He didn’t sound bitter at my recent defections at all, which was a relief. So now I am once again beautiful and close cropped.

I wanted to go to Brighton to get some shirts and pay a visit to Waterstones, neither of which activities are possible in my home town. It’s the place where ennui went to die. Possibly for want of a warm plaid shirt and a good read.

I asked the bus driver for a return ticket to Brighton. Because that was my plan. Go to Brighton. Visit a couple of shops. Wander along Western Road to the Lebanese supermarket, grab a handful of exotic food items. Possibly get a snack and a drink. Return home. That was my plan, it was a coherent plan and it would have sufficed. The view along the coast is nice enough, and there was nothing and nowhere else that appealed.

The driver had other plans.

“Are you sure you don’t want a Saver?”

“No. I want a return ticket please. From here to Brighton and back again. Thanks.” My needs today were simple and straightforward.

“But if you get a Saver you can get off the bus wherever you want, get back on another bus on the route and continue your journey. However often you may want to.”

“But I don’t want to. I want to go to Brighton. And then come back here. So you see to me it’s all the same thing.”

“Ah. No it isn’t the same thing you see, because if you want to do that then all you need is a return ticket. Whereas the Saver gives you flexibility. You don’t get that with a simple return. Do you want a Saver?”  In a different universe, or if I had a few variations in my DNA which could have resulted in me being a totally different representative of humanity this would all have been helpful,  possibly interesting or even vaguely relevant. But in the here and now I was heading for a Fegelein moment. Flecks of spittle were forming, I was ready to decompose and howl. I held my composure though.

“No.” I seethed, calmly and collectedly. “I don’t want (fucking) flexibility. I don’t want a (fucking) Saver. I want to go to (fucking) Brighton and then come straight (fucking) back again. On a (fucking) simple five pound return (fucking) ticket. It’s that simple.”

I got off the bus, returned home, changed my clothes and after donning my Czech fur hat and woolly gloves against the chilly North Easterly wind, went for a seven mile bicycle ride and screamed at the sea. The sea shrugged off my frustrations by breaking itself on the pebbled shore.

There were people fishing, people dog walking and simply strolling along the esplanade. All wrapped up for Autumn, all looking calm and happy on this bright but blustery day. Even the ice cream van is still turning up and parking for the day. It’s me, I thought, plunging myself into a gloom of self loathing and doubt. I see the end of times in a helpful and obliging bus driver. The poor sorry fucker only wanted me to buy a Saver ticket.

Then I went and bought a nice looking piece of brisket beef for tomorrow’s dinner. It’s marinading in some homemade beef stock with vegetables and aromatics out in the outhouse fridge right now. I’m going to look on easyjet’s website for a weekend city break for the new year. Prague or Rome. I haven’t been away for seven months and it’s beginning to tell on me.



Stranger Triangles

So. Where to begin…there’s a lass called Emilie who regularly visits my shop and often engages me in dangerous conversations loaded with incitement and innuendo. It’s usually under cover of asking my advice about the latest man in her life, who she has discovered to be betraying her, enabling her faults, abusing her trust or otherwise simply being a bloke, as they may say. She has a seven year old child named Earnest, which sets certain alarm bells ringing in the dust choked cloisters of what you may describe as my mind.

But this isn’t about her. Or Earnest. It’s about her mum, Paula, who also regularly calls in to my shop to buy snacks to eat on her regular train journeys up to London, a place where she undertakes freelance employment of an undisclosed nature. Or so she has me believe. They’ve never yet been in together as far as I can tell, but I doubt that that means anything.

Just to set the scene. I have a mild case of the hots for Em. Em adores her mum. Mum, meanwhile, gets very flirty and saucy with me. An unconnected, non existent menage a trois, going nowhere on a slow burn. But Paula was going hard at it today. I was attempting to sort out her order. She insisted on making frequent interruptions.

“I do like your hair Graham.” she fluttered. I ignored her but couldn’t help a slight leer and wink in her general direction.

“You’ve got a bit of a silver quiff going on there. Nice.”  I realised that I’d better play along. Although there was quite a queue building up.

“To tell you the God’s honest, Paula, I’m over eight weeks from my last haircut. Richie over the road is well pissed off because the new girl who opened up two doors down last year has gained my patronage for my last two cuts. She’s sweet, she’s hot, she doesn’t gabble on for ever about shagging pensionable age cripples, and she gets my hair cut in ten minutes rather than Richie’s usual half hour. And she calls me darling, which I can’t imagine ever wanting Richie to ever do. But she’s been on holiday for the last couple of weeks leaving her sullen male assistant in sole charge. So I’m waiting for her to come back and if she doesn’t appear soon I’ll have to swallow my pride and plug my ears with cotton wool and go over to Richie’s place for a cut, but he’s hurting and I don’t want him hurting me, see? Hence the slightly bouffant style which I’m currently sporting, however reluctantly. See?” I stopped for breath. Paula looked hard into my eyes.

“It’s a shame about your window.” Yes it is. Some vulnerable youth wearing an offensively loud tracksuit and baseball cap strode purposefully up the High Street at 3 a.m. yesterday taking hard kicks and punches at shop windows various and five in number, of which mine happened to be the largest and hence most expensive to replace. The overall effect is of a stream in a strong spring breeze, all curving lines and undulating glittering triangles. But no minnows or frogspawn.  It’s currently held together with copious amounts of sticky backed plastic whilst the glaziers source, cut and bevel an appropriate sized sheet.

It would have helped my fragile sense of well being today though if I had printed and posted on the shattered remains of  the window an A4 sheet of paper saying

Yes I know it’s broken.

No I don’t know who did it.

Yes it will cost a lot.

No, standard shop insurance

doesn’t cover it.


So that’s me, not the happiest person alive today. But problems, as I know only too well, are purely relative. And relatives can be problems. But that’s another tale.






Skimming Prey and Magnesium Blaze

So it’s the first Thursday of Autumn, in a way, and the year is ageing fast. Only a couple of weeks ago I was heading for a swim in the sea at seven in the evenings when Juanita my Love had left for work, and now, now! I have to ensure I have lights on the bike when I go for the evening ride at the same time as it’s dark on my way home. But then that has long been the case in some ways. The sunsets have been quite picturesque though. Last night the lowering sky was layered with dusty rose pink and a colour I can only describe as magnesium lemon, and tonight it looked like a thermonuclear tangerine was easing itself silently through a lilac shroud into the sea behind the breakwater. Always crowds of people standing on the beach and the pathway capturing images on their devices. I just absorb it through the eyes like a spiritual virus into my soul. Colours, colours everywhere, and I feel them burning within me. Or maybe that’s the skordalia I made and gorged on yesterday.

I’ve been going right round the back of town a few times lately, where the lovely big villa type houses are. There are balconies, loggias and you just know that most of them have fake inglenook fireplaces and box rooms and the occasional galleried mezzanine. Some are painted white with green tiled roofs. But fuck me, the lawns are manicured to death, there are no weeds in the borders and the streets are patrolled by elderly men in crisp pressed unfaded blue jeans, pale denim shirts with smooth collars lying flat and mother of pearl buttons. Their wives wear headscarves and wellington boots when they walk their spaniels and labs. I find it all very unsettling, like a tranquil retirement hell for lecturers, company execs and civil servants, and pass through quickly. I couldn’t live in streets like those. I bet you have to live up to certain standards.

I had me a day off yesterday so I went into Brighton to buy a pen, some clothes, an anniversary present for my wife and some leaves, grains and spices from the Lebanese shop, where I saw an old lady get caught shoplifting three juicy peaches. For dinner today I made some breaded sliced chicken breast baked and then drizzled with a lovely fresh tomato, roast pepper and chorizo sauce using some pimenton dulce what I got yesterday. Drizzled, did I say? Puddles of the stuff more accurately. Tres nice, as you might say if you were linguistically confused. The town was heaving with crowds of these horrible people who wander from shop to shop, vacant of eye and mean of spirit, who check out goods in the shops and then you know, you just know, they go home and buy whatever it is off the internet for three quid less than they would have paid in the shops. After spending ten pounds on parking or bus fares or whatever. And probably fifteen ninety eight or something in MacDonalds or KFC. I sometimes try to dislocate their kneecaps with my shopping bags in passing. Not very successfully it has to be said. They just tell me to watch where I’m fucking going.

On the slow moving bus back from town I was idly looking at a little flock of sparkling starlings on the Tye, chirruping frantically and slaughtering worms or bugs or seeds in a busy little crowd. As one they lifted off in panic as a kestrel came skimming over the grass less than two feet above the ground and snatched one of the slower ones, who probably didn’t even notice its sudden violent death approaching. An Arabic  girl was speaking loudly into her phone in the seat in front of me, madly overusing the letter L. I don’t think she saw the drama on the green.


The phone rang in the shop on Tuesday. I answered it as the girls were otherwise engaged chatting and discussing Facebook things. Never done it myself. I simply glowered meaningfully at them and picked up the phone.

“Hello Graham it’s Betty.” The only Bettys I know are my aunt who is 92 and lives in Broadstairs but has a broad Lincolnshire accent; it wasn’t her, and another lady called Betty who died three years ago. It wasn’t her either. Unless technology and medicine have progressed together at a very frightening rate and in a quite fucking disturbing direction.

“Betty? Sorry, Betty who?”

“I come in your shop. I buy bread” she said. That narrowed it down substantially. It’s a fucking bakery.

“Oh” I replied, for want of anything intelligent or relevant to say.

“Have you got Brian’s number?” She asked. I’ve got a cousin Brian who lives in Cheshire. He’s a copper. Retired now, I fancy. I had a feeling it wasn’t him she wanted though. I wouldn’t have handed out his contact details anyway.

“Brian? Betty? Sorry love, I really don’t know if I can help you. I really don’t know if you have the right number.” I really don’t know if we live on the same fucking planet.

“Yes Brian. He’s a painter and decorator. Or a builder. Anyway, a couple of years ago he was working across the road from you in one of those buildings. I wondered if you had his number.”

I wanted to say “Fuck! What the Fuck? Is this a fucking big fucking stitch up? What the Fuck? This is Fucking political!” And press my fingertips to my temples while showing too much dental hardware. Rather channelling John Malkovich in the opening scenes of Burn After Reading. though I don’t think he said “stitch up”. He certainly said “what the Fuck?” with a capital F quite a few times.

“Aaaah. Sorry. Betty? If Brian had been Brianna or even Bronye with big blue eyes and a cleavage to get lost in I might have attempted to get a phone number. But as it happens I don’t recall a Brian. Mind you, there are five businesses and three residentials across the road. Have you tried any of them?” I try to be helpful.

“No, it wasn’t Brianna or the other one. It was definitely Brian. I’ve got two walls in my front room, they need painting. I wondered if you had his number. That’s all.” I had the feeling that Betty was disappointed.

I said goodbye, hung up and got to wondering about a front room with two walls. Perhaps Betty lives in a alternative corner Universe.

Perhaps Betty is just another madwoman, determined to share her love with the rest of humanity.



And so it has been that I have spent many evenings and the occasional morning this summer wrapping my loins in my faded green swim shorts, my hairy upper body in a red tee shirt and my shapely yet curiously be-nailed feet in an old pair of blue Cotton Traders beach shoes, before embarking on my customary ten mile ride along the timeless coastal path. There was almost a reference to a Spirit LP there. Ten points to you if you got it. Never mind if you didn’t. I don’t think Randy’s with us any longer. There’s a two and a half mile point at the next town where I chain up the bike to some railings and divert to the pebbly beach, there to toss my tee shirt upon the flints and then myself into the waves for twenty minutes or so. Though it has often been so calm that the waves just haven’t been there. I prefer it if there’s a touch of choppiness to the water, or even a deep and commanding swell, as it’s quite fun to do dolphin dives into the advancing waves, surfacing in the following trough and watching the mackerel and bass chasing the little blits and making them flip up into the air. Then it’s the dripping wet seven and a half miles round to the farm lane and back home to a warm and refreshing shower, followed by a plate of humus, anchovies, tomatoes and a warm oil sprinkled flatbread.

That’s been a lot of my summer this year, apart from days when grandchildren have been staying, when I’ve tried to achieve variations on the above, sometimes more successfully than others.


But this is all a diversion, a digression to fill some space. Back in the spring, cycling past the salty low lying fields this side of the rail embankment, I often noticed a whiff of decay rising from the hedgerows, like the final exhalation of last autumn’s vegetation as it succumbed to the inevitable. We have a couple of customers who come to my shop who smell quite similar, but that’s because they’re dirty bastards who don’t wash, rather than being poignant reminders of nature’s eternal cycle of death and rebirth.

Then over the last few weeks there’s been a smell which I eagerly await every year. There is a low lying stretch of about a quarter mile which for maybe a month or so every year becomes heavily suffused with a perfume combining honeysuckle, lavender and gently sweating women. Just love that length of pathway, it feels terminal, like I’d be happy to be buried there. After I’ve died and been cremated, obviously. Though I have already expressed a wish to have my ashes thrown off the bridge into the river just as the tide turns and flows seaward. Perhaps they’ll have to divide me into piles to comply with all the different places that I’ll have decided I want to be scattered to by then. You know what I mean?  I definitely want Kitty Kallen to be playing as I turn to ashes and dense cloying smoke, that’s for sure. Little things do indeed mean a lot.

I’ve been watching some pretty good fillums lately. Campanella’s original of Secret in their Eyes, El secreto de sus ojos, is well worth your while watching. Soledad Villamil and Ricardo Darin make it wonderful. It’s from Argentina so the English subtitles are vital to me. Then there are a couple of Nina Hoss movies, Phoenix, Yella and Barbara. That’s three, but I use the word ‘couple’ in the non-biblical sense. They’re good. And Er ist Wieder Da, which is adapted from a book by Timur Vermes. Read the book, watch the film, they’re both good. Though you do need a grasp of basic German to find your way to the English subtitles, I promise you will find it worthwhile. Unless you don’t find the idea of Adolph H. awakening, dazed, smelling of petrol and with  a splitting headache in a carpark in 2014 Berlin to be full of promise. I did and it was worth the trip. Comedy gold with a cold bitter streak inside which should bring you up with a start. Funny how an association with one man can make some names go right out of fashion for years on end, isn’t it?

No Mediterranean summer holiday to bore you with this year as my daughter and second in command has not been at all well enough for me to get away and leave my shop in her stern and unyielding hands, but I’m hoping to hit Barcelona for a couple of days in Sweptember to celebrate entering the last year of my sixth decade. I am keeping my fingers well and truly crossed in hope and anticipation and a wallet full of Euros in my bedside cabinet.

And then I had a dental check this week. Aisleen peered, prodded and fondled my teeth, all the while reeling off the secret code words describing my dental health to her smiling assistant. She looked deep into my mouth, so deep that I thought and almost hoped that she would absent-mindedly penetrate my face with her tongue and lick the inside of my cheek. But decency and her innate fastidiousness prevailed and I didn’t get lucky. I didn’t need any treatment though. So all good.

I hope life is treating you well and all around you are appreciating you for the treasures that you are.



‘Twixt the Pillow and the Ceiling…

I would have left her with very little else to see. That’s what I told her anyway. I’d been recounting the tale of my recent trip to Berlin in reply to the queries of a woman I know called Sue. That’s what I’ll call her here, anyway. Mainly because that’s her given.

You see, back in March I took my oldest grandson Geo to the German capital for a boys’ long weekend. He’s fourteen and has a deep fascination for twentieth century European history, meat-based diets, wheat beer and interesting European females. Not necessarily in that order. We spent a couple of days visiting various sites, museums and memorials, at some of which he bought a chunk of the Berlin Wall, a set of Russian tank commander’s goggles, a Soviet fur hat and, naturally, a gas mask, which involved a rather tense stand-off during our purchase negotiations. We (he) saved ourselves 40 Euros on the deal, so the verbal abuse we (I) suffered was worthwhile. He wanted the gas mark for “my vlogs, innit Grandad”. I didn’t ask him to elaborate. Geo discovered Curry Wurst and Berliner Kindl, both to his delight, Schnapps, mostly to mine, and he was both impressed and embarrassed at his grandfather’s ability to flirt with a German waitress in her native language. He’s also developed a recent interest in photography, and made some pretty damned good images while we were there.

So there we are. I was telling Sue about our adventures and she said she’d like to come with me next time I go. Joking, like. And I replied, equally in jest, that it would be a wasted trip if she wanted to do any sightseeing because she wouldn’t see anything other than the two items I mentioned in the title above. She had that sort of eye-narrowing look appearing on her face and I realised I’d overstepped the mark a little bit.

She said “we’ll make that a date then shall we?” Ooh er. I don’t know how I’ll get that one past the protective bosom of my family, I’m sure…Best not try.

Not a lot else has happened that you want to hear about, really.

You may remember Granny Gollum who once upon a time featured in these pages with vicious regularity. For many years she and her family were barred from entering my shop, after a period of sustained nastiness. Well I still see them about in town, and decided it would add much credit to my Karma balance if I did something nice for once. So I thought I’d bring her back from Berlin a jar of the Senf (Mittelscharf) mustard for which I know she has a particular fondness. But I forgot. I was meant to bring a few jars home for us too. I forgot that as well. So I went straight onto Amazon the morning after we got home and ordered a load, along with some other delightful continental condiments and sauces.

Two hours after I placed the order, the house phone rang. It was an Amazon seller, asking if I was the person who’d ordered a selection of German and Dutch foodstuffs. I admitted that I was, and he said that if I was going to be in for the morning he’d drop it off at my house. He lives less than four miles from my hovel! He came around and we had a lovely chat and exchanged emails, phone numbers etc and I promised to place endless more orders with him. Exciting and serendipitous stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It’s spring. Walking to work this morning was like making my way through an avian orgy. Wood pigeons, Herring gulls and cancer doves were all shagging on roof tops, walls and the handrail above the underpass leading to the swimming pool. Feathers, beaks and sperm everywhere. They have no shame, but are blessed with a wonderful sense of balance. Probably a good way to go through life.



Babylon Blisters

The weather forecast had promised a day of cloudy skies and showers today. We got a stiff wind blowing in off the sea, unbroken blue skies and clear golden sunshine, which for some strange reason encouraged me to spend my day off listening to my Very Best of Steely Dan double cd, when I wasn’t on a fifteen mile bike ride and clearing away small piles of post-winter debris from the garden. There’s little to beat a good cycle alongside the estuary, with the salty gusts sweeping across from the bay and the sun in your eyes. There wasn’t today anyway, so I made the most of it. Summer draws closer. So with thighs a-throb and splinters of dead wood stinging a tender patch of skin between the roots of thumb and forefinger, I set to to make a pleasant dinner for me and my little Squaw Juanita to enjoy when she got back from her monthly visit to her ma and step-pa. They had been discussing the future, and had decided that they were going to be buried together when the time comes, leaving my father-in-law alone in his double grave which the mother-in-law purchased on his death thirty five years ago. Unless Juanita’s brother can be persuaded to take her place in the double, seeing as he’s a bit of a skinflint and he’ll probably see it as a good way to save a bit of cash. She came home quite fraught.

This is why I don’t go on these family visits. It’s far easier to visit my folks. I just wander down the hill to the old church graveyard and stand by my brother’s grave wherein we lifted a few turves and sprinkled my parents’ ashes in after their respective cremations, and absorb the ineffable calmness of the place. Ivy, box trees, and spring bulbs poking through the grass. Low Spring sunshine dappling through the branches of the overhanging trees and dead Winter twigs crackling under the feet. It’s a tonic for the soul.

So, I’d decided on a pasta type thing for dinner. Mainly because I’ve had a fair amount of fish lately. I sliced a couple of chicken breasts thinly across the grain and set them to rest in a dish with extra virgin olive oil and a crushed clove of the garlic and a couple of dozen twists of black pepper, then set a pan of conchiglie to boil. While that was cooking I finely chopped and softened in more oil an onion and another crushed clove of garlic along with a generous pinch of crushed dried chilli flakes, followed by a glass of malbec which I reduced for five minutes. The pasta was cooked so I left it cooling under a trickle of cold water. We’re not on a meter yet, so old habits persist. Then I sauteed the chicken bits in a HOT PAN with a splash of yet more olive oil.  The HOT PAN is vital, as it seals the juice in the chicken and imparts a lovely golden hue, after which it can be rested on a plate. Which I did. Meanwhile, I added a carton of chopped tomatoes to the onion pan and simmered it a while along with a handful of fresh basil leaves. I also made a pint of thinnish bechamel into which I stirred a couple of ounces of strong cheddar. Now for the construction!

You mix the tomato sauce into the pasta and stir in the cooked chicken and a tub of drained mozzarella balls and use it to fill the base of a good sized baking dish, then sprinkle a bag of grated mozzarella (which you found in the back of the freezer on Sunday when you were looking for the bag of mussels you knew you’d put there a couple of weeks ago) over it. Then you gently spread the cheese sauce over it, followed by a whole large mozzarella ball which you shred over the surface by hand. Cover the whole surface with ground black pepper and dried chilli flakes, basil and oregano. Don’t put it in the oven yet, but let it stand for an hour or so before baking it for half an hour. Eat it happy, and listen to good music. Your taste buds will thank you.




Blimey. Squdookle. So recent yet it seems so long ago. Thank you, Joss.

Weevils, waffles & weading.

There was Jane, sighing and close to tears as usual.

“You know I’ve had to move house again? People think it’s me, Graham. But it isn’t. You know it isn’t. I always get on with people. I try to anyway.” I must have a face that attracts the weak and the vulnerable. Or something like that.

“Well Jane I just don’t know what to say. What happened at the bungalow?” The last time I saw her Jane had moved into a lovely new bungalow because she thought a man who lived upstairs from her at the block of flats where she’d been living was stalking her. Because he said hello when he noticed she was following him round Lidl because she thought he looked like he might be shoplifting.

“Oh, I spent a few months in a park home after the bungalow, but there was a man with a dog….” and she was on the brink of tears again. All welling up and snotty dribble everywhere, most unattractive if you ask me. It’s not Jane’s best look, simply her usual one.

I didn’t ask about the man with the dog…or what might or might not have happened at the bungalow. She was already telling me about her latest disaster, in the latest second floor three roomed flat.

“I kept finding weevils, everywhere. In my bed, in my cupboards, in my clothes, everywhere. Not nice Graham”. I nodded my agreement and sympathy.

“Did you fumigate, Jane? It sounds like you needed to.” Well what would you have asked her in the circumstances?

But she hadn’t fumigated. She’d called the pest department at the council. They’d told her, apparently, that it was all the fault of the man upstairs who fed pigeons on his balcony. The pigeon feed attracted the weevils. But weevils aren’t a health hazard so if she didn’t like it she’d have to move.  That’s what she said the man from the council told her, and who am I to disbelieve Jane? So she’s looking to move again. The local estate agents put the kettle on and send the boy out for cakes and biscuits when they see her coming. And possibly browse through a holiday brochure or something similar.


And so it was that Juanita and I took our granddaughter to Amsterdam for a long weekend in the middle of February, the cruelest, shortest month. It’s a fair old city is Amsterdam. Or an old, fair city. It’s lovely anyway. We stayed a little way out of the city centre but the hotel was on the tram and bus routes so all was good. We did the canal cruise twice, the round city bus tour, and spent a morning on Damrak, taking in the Body Worlds exhibition and some delicious vries and  fritessoss. Not at the same time. We took her to the Anne Frank House, which was the main reason for the trip, and also passed an afternoon at the Van Gogh Museum, which was probably more my treat than theirs. Food, including waffles, was good, drink was good, so all was good. I like good. Next stop Berlin in a couple of weeks time.

One afternoon last week my dear friend Fretful Mathew was deploying his favourite distraction technique in a futile attempt to prevent me kicking him out and closing the shop on time. He was trying to convince me that he’d read an interesting article about a 1970s female newsreader but he simply couldn’t remember her name. She had dark hair. I rattled off the names of all the newreaders of the time whose names I could remember. Richard Baker. He had dark hair. No. Robert Dougall. No. He had little hair. Kenneth Kendall. No. Not a woman. Moira Stuart? No. Selina Scott? Too blond. Anna Ford? He blushed. No, not her. Why blush, Mathew? Something to do with a proposition. You should be so lucky. I didn’t mention Hugh Burnett. He had a great voice. A dynamic voice. But he wasn’t a brunette. Mathew was looking desperate.

I eventually bundled him out of the door with a warning that if the name came to him in the small hours he was not, repeat not, to telephone me in a state of rapture with the good news.

He came into the shop the following afternoon for his tea and cake. Half way through his Danish pastry he smiled. I was preparing to take shelter when he told me he’d remembered the name.

“Name, Mathew?” I queried, my face blooming with confusion.

“Yes, the female 1970’s newsreader.” He was almost triumphant.

“What female 1970’s newsreader are you talking about Mathew?”

“Jan Leeming!” He said.

“Jan who?” Asked I.

“Jan Leeming! That’s who we were trying to remember yesterday!”

“We were? I thought she was more 80s than 70s. But never mind. More tea Mathew?”


So here I am, listening to an old Nerina Pallot record ‘Fires’ that I’d forgotten I had. It just goes to show that wonderful memories can be found lurking in the open, if only you can be bothered to look. I was a bit bored and on a whim rummaged through the disc collection. And there she was. So I’m listening to her again. Good stuff.

I was sitting in the barber’s the other day and Richie was buzzing at a breathless pace across the nape of my neck. “Plug yerself in, Richie baby!” I howled, mainly to confuse poor Olly who was awaiting his turn in the chair. Bobby the senile Dachsund looked at me with despair and disdain. Dogs ain’t what they used to be. That one isn’t, anyway. Olly looked up, and spoke. He always calls me “Doctor”. I don’t know why. I have been called many things, some sacred, some profane but mostly mundane. But Olly calls me “Doctor”.

“Here Doctor, did I tell you I got a promotion?” I haven’t seen him for three months. How shit can his memory be?

“Last time I saw you, Oll, you’d quit the bins. Where are you working now? And why are you still dressed as a bin man? Does it turn on the old ladies?” Olly shares Richie’s penchant for shagging decrepit old ladies. I really mean old. And I really mean decrepit. Worryingly there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of willing takers.

“Nah, Doctor,” he chuckled, “I’m doing the street bins now. I quit the lorries. Now I’ve got my own little truck and I do the street bins.” He looked mightily pleased with himself. I was thinking of the scene in The Maltese Falcon where Bogie slaps Wilmer and says “when you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it!” but my hands were restrained by Richie’s cape and my own iron self-discipline. So Olly escaped a good slapping.

“Fuck me Olly, I really can’t keep up with you. Not that I’d particularly want to. All the best with it anyway…” and he started to launch into a description of the perceived benefits of emptying the street bins. The bins around the local care homes are probably pristine, I thought, but really couldn’t be arsed to move the conversation along any further. And Richie had finished with me anyway, with a final flourish of his trimmer along the leading edges of my ears. No blood. Ten quid well spent.

I had to get to the dentist next for my annual check up. Aisleen spent a minute checking my teeth and gums, and fifteen minutes chatting about holidays, surgery inspections, silk vs. cotton in regard to underwear and other stuff. I got the impression from her breath that she’d been chewing cardamom seeds. Much more pleasant than when she spent eighteen months on the Brussels Sprout diet. I left her surgery with a slight limp to the right and a feeling that that had been twenty five quid even better spent.

So then I bumped into the lovely Gillian as we both did an unsuspecting 180 degree turn into each other by the salad display in the supermarket. We haven’t seen each other for a couple of years; she was and will forever be my favourite person of all time who isn’t my wife and I was occasionally her very favourite person who isn’t her husband. So she has led me to believe, anyway. But they moved away when she took early retirement and we didn’t keep in touch. And here we now were, surrounded by bags of prepared leaves and various other green yellow and red salad vegetables and fruits and the world around us faded away to a curious distance as we caught up. She was wearing her customary maroon woollen stockings, straight grey skirt and flat shoes, which look on Gillian I find quite unaccountably exciting. It’s lovely to be able to talk to someone who’s on the same wavelength; it turns out we’ve just finished reading books by the same author. Gill’s eyes are like little pools of hazel light, glowing and bright and her voice feels like the lightest touch of the feathers from the wing of an angel against your ears. Am I just a little in love with her? What do you think, reader of mine? But her husband was waiting outside in the car park and I had a basket to fill with dairy consumables, so after another hug and a brief kiss or two, we parted with a promise to keep in touch this time. You need friends like Gillian. I do anyway.

I went for my regular evening bike ride along the coast that night and it decided to rain when I was eight miles out, along with the wind increasing to an onshore gale stinging the face with lashings of sea water and small flying grains of flinty sand. My front light battery died shortly after that. The bastard. The estuary path runs alongside the main coast road, separated from it only by a six foot wide verge of coarse grass, dead rabbits and shattered hubcaps and the only lights, apart from the steady distant morse code of the lighthouse across the bay, are the glaring headlights of the cars hurtling towards you at eye level, blinding and terrifying through the rapidly rising storm. It makes you feel especially conscious of both the excitement and the fragility of existence at times like that, and I was quite pleased to arrive back at the safety of home even if I had forgotten to fasten the back gate and the tempest had shattered it against the wall, separating a cross piece from an upright beam. I fixed the fucker though. I always have a bucket full of steel strapping plates and zinc covered two inch screws on permanent standby in the outhouse.

I made me a huge bowl of Spaghetti Putanesca to cheer myself up once I was dry and dressed. Anchovies! Always have anchovies as part of your diet children, they are truly food from heaven. I only ever eat them when my wife’s not about though because she has an unfathomable and quite unreasonable dislike for the poor little fellows. My little Juanita was at work that night however, and remains unaware of the dramas of the day even now.

So that’s pretty much all that the new year has brought so far. Some good, some not so, but all real, all intense.

And Nerina Pallot’s still playing!

Good night, dear readers.



Yeah yeah yeah

So that was Christmas. It was alright, I’ve known worse. I’ve known better too. We closed the shop at 2 o’clock on Saturday and I got home somewhere about four, leaving it all ready for stripping out and repainting the kitchen this week. I know how to enjoy the festive season. We had to get the drinks in and a few last minute bits of food shopping too, so that was the early evening accounted for. I saw they had the bluray disc of Atomic Blonde in the supermarket so I slipped it into the trolley.

All I knew about the film is that it’s set in cold-war era Berlin and it stars Charlize Theron. I usually enjoy spy movies, I also enjoy most films set in continental European cities, and all I can say about Charlize Theron is that if I were a woman I would be strongly tempted to become a lesbian. Extremely so. Especially if I found out that she was one too. But then I’d probably make my way to Los Angeles, find out where her favourite cafe is and start hanging around there, hoping to bump into her accidentally on numerous occasions. I reckon the situation would quickly deteriorate into accusations of stalking and counter accusations of blatant incitement, then the inevitable restraining orders, hate-mail and quite unjustified internet trolling followed by a short but extremely uncomfortable residence in prison, where I’d most likely become Big Shaqui’ta’s dirty little bitch, and then a brutal deportation. That would cause the self loathing to kick in, and then I’d go and do something really stupid. Like getting a tattoo of Charlize Theron’s face on my chest with my nipples where her eyes should be and a bottomless abyss of paranoia and suspicion in my navel. Thinking about it I don’t reckon I want to become a lesbian after all. It doesn’t sound that much fun really, does it? Quite grim, actually.

So I was quite looking forward to watching the movie with a glass or two of gimlet or maybe Gin & Tonic. My new favourite drinks.

If you haven’t watched the film, I won’t spoil it for you by disclosing the plot, praising the screenplay with its realistic dialogue or admiring the period detail. Mainly because there weren’t any. What a pile of shite. I know it’s only meant to be entertainment, not a documentary, but it wasn’t. I’ve seen telly adverts for payday loan companies that were more entertaining and convincing.  Yeah, I’m the 21st century’s Barry Norman. I watched the old Beatles’ movie ‘Hard Day’s Night’ today. That’s a great film. Probably because the 1960s London landscape was the background to my childhood, and the songs were what I grew up to. And didn’t those boys dress sharp before hippiedom came along to drag them down!

We spent Christmas eve at my oldest daughter Anna’s, and her husband Ali* made us all a slow cooked Lebanese lamb dish with herby salad, carrot and yogurt dip and piles of flatbread. It was gorgeous, especially washed down with lashings of fizzy white wine. Jess 11 the granddaughter was well choked (in a state of extreme excitement and happiness) to realise we’re taking her to Amsterdam in February for her present and George 14 the oldest has convinced me that the only suitable birthday treat for him will be if I take him to Berlin in the Spring for a boys only weekend. I was persuaded by his reasoning. Alfie 7 and Stan 5 were very happy too. So all good there. We spent the afternoon  playing games and the evening watching George do his singing and then Me Myself & Irene and a couple of episodes of Bottom. All classy stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

We had a quiet Christmas day. Rach.a.El had her face buried in her phone as usual and my son Joe is back home with us having broken up with his woman after three years. He spent most of the day in his room looking tearful and lost. Anita worries about him. My other daughter Sarah phoned, she was a bit subdued because her two oldest boys had to spend the day with their wastrel lying shite of a father, and she was having a quiet day with David, husband no.2, who’s a much better dad to the boys, and their youngest two. They are all staying with us over New Year. All of them. What have I done? I know what I’ve done. I’ve got a huge fucking dinner to cook on New Year’s Day.

So that could have been better and it could have been worse. We ate well though, and were well hydrated.

So here we are today. Earlier today Anna’s first husband, Geo’s dad, came around ours with his second wife and Geo’s little half brother. They live up north in Surrey. The branches of the family tree are many and quite entangled. My little Juanita is back at work tonight so I’m going to watch a film on the telly. Nikita or Leon. I’m going to flip a coin.

I hope both of you, my lovely readers, had a good Christmas, despite the adversities that life seems to delight in chucking at us sometimes, and hope we all have a much better 2018.

Night night. X



*Ali. He’s not Lebanese in case you were wondering. The food was. His name isn’t. It’s short for Alastair. He’s not Scottish either. In case you were wondering about that too.